I’m a Recovering Food Blogger

Hi, my name is Mara, and I’m a recovering food blogger.

“HI MARA”

This post has been a long time coming, and years in the making.

Over five years ago, I started my food blog, What’s for Dinner? with the hopes of chronicling losing “those last 20 pounds” after a successful stint in Weight Watchers. Friends were always asking me for recipes so I figured “what the hell?” and started writing them down.

The recipes gave way to pictures of the food.

Which then gave way to bringing a camera to every meal out…

…which then gave way to a more expensive camera at every meal out.

I think months went by and I didn’t eat a hot meal because I had to get the photo “just so.” There were eye rolls when the camera came out. People started passing me their plates before they started eating so that I could get a picture. I’m apparently the only one who didn’t find it ridiculous.

Being a food blogger was a huge contributor to my weight gain.

When I say huge, I mean “in the top ten reasons I piled on over 80 pounds in a few short years”.

At first, I was sharing healthy recipes, measuring my portions, and if I remembered to photograph them, great.

Then things changed. I don’t know if it was the advent of Pinterest, the insane competition that started happening between the “bigger bloggers” and the “smaller bloggers” to get as much blog traffic as possible, or whether I used these things as an excuse to make deep-fried appetizers, cheesy pasta-filled main courses, and decadent (I now shudder at this word) desserts. I got a kick out of people loving my food. I also loved my food, way too much and way too often.

When I started my Optifast weight loss journey, I abruptly said goodbye to this way of life. I think in the whole 14 weeks of the intensive program, I took one photo of one shake one morning. ONCE. They just weren’t interesting.

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See? Boring.
I used food blogging to fuel my food addiction, which I wholeheartedly accept and acknowledge as a real thing. The difference, as they say, is that one needs food to live, unlike other addictions which can be 100% cut out of a person’s life. I couldn’t just stop eating. I could, however, take away the parts which made it anything more than a necessity. I stopped cooking. Stopped planning. Stopped shopping. Food became fuel only.
I vowed to myself to only take photos of food for my own accountability. Thai spicy broth for dinner instead of Optifast? Photo. First sashimi dinner after 14 weeks of no real solid food? Photo. I would not, however, break out the good camera and set the plates out just so and make the photos look perfect. I used my phone and some Instagram filters and shared my food with my followers there, and watched my attitude about food continue to be that of fuel and not my primary source of success or pleasure.
I realized during our trip to Barcelona that there is a huge difference between photographing a meal for the memory of it, and photographing a meal “for the blog”. I have dozens of photos of food from that trip, and I also know there was plenty of food consumed that was not photographed. I also realized that the sheer act of feeling like I “had to” photograph a meal can be likened to putting an alcoholic in a bar, or a gambling addict in a casino. I found myself overeating, over-drinking, and under-thinking
One thing that absolutely has not changed is my appreciation for the beautiful. I take a huge amount of pleasure in eating a beautifully prepared meal, and even indulge in the occasional dessert (preferably made by my über-talented sister). Yes, I still take photos of meals occasionally, but only because I feel they are too beautiful to not be recorded, or too delicious not to share.

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Pan con tomate and mussels on the Mediterranean, saved for posterity in my iPhone

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I told you my sister is talented!
While one of the most important things to come from this is my now 97.5 pound weight loss, I truly feel that THE most important thing for me is my change in attitude regarding food. Sure I eat to live. Sometimes, I live to cook. But I truly and honestly feel that I no longer live to eat… and that’s something that took me 33 years and some months to learn, and will take a lifetime to reinforce.

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One Year

A year ago (well, a year ago 2 days ago) I made the decision to flip my life upside down.

After spending the better portion of the previous 3 years doing nothing but planning for, buying, prepping, photographing, and eating (and eating, and eating, and eating) the most delicious food I could imagine, I decided to give it all up.

I walked in to the Alexian Brothers Weight Loss Solutions clinic with zero expectations. What I knew was this (and I’m sharing things I’ve never shared before because, what the heck):

  • I weighed in at 285.1 pounds, wearing a snug size 22 pants (which should’ve been a 24) and a 22/24 top.
  • I couldn’t walk up stairs without getting winded.
  • I had zero space between my real chin, my second chin, and my neck.
  • I wore a size 46 H bra
  • I was always tired. Always. I woke up tired, worked tired, got home tired, and never slept well.
  • Size 2X men’s t-shirts were snug
  • I wore a size 10 wide shoe, and could not stand wearing any sort of heel for longer than an hour or so.
  • I was sick a lot. If a cold or the flu was going around work, I got it and got it bad.
  • I had consistent skin rashes (in fairly bad places) almost constantly. They hurt all the time.
  • My face was always broken out in horrific painful pimples
  • I wore my fitbit band (because just wearing it would help) on the biggest notch, and it irritated my wrist.
  • I had issues keeping myself as clean as I would’ve liked, as cleaning my whole self in the shower was difficult.
  • I had to have my wedding ring set resized twice, which pained me, as it was the last handmade thing I have from my dad. I wore a size 8.5 ring.
  • My stomach almost always hurt, usually from sheer overeating.
  • Every joint in my body hurt, almost all the time. Even my fingers and toes hurt, and my neck, ankles gave out fairly often, causing embarrassing falls.
  • I had a hard time finding glasses that fit my face, causing ridiculous grooves on the side of my face when I took my glasses off. And forget contacts! They caused a weird allergic reaction.

This was me, always with a smile on my face, but always feeling not quite right.

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I was actually wearing those same pants when I walked into that clinic. They were digging into my stomach as I sat in the waiting room, and I noticed that I had splatters of Frappucino from that morning on the knee. Probably from when I used the straw to scrape the last of the whipped cream out of the bottom of the cup.

After talking with the nurse, dietician, doctor, and my mom, I made a decision to jump in head-first. Meal replacements for a minimum of 12 weeks through OptiFast.

I made it 14 weeks. I slowly added food. I traveled. I learned to not loathe exercise. I lost weight successfully for the first time in years.

Today:

  • I weighed in this week at 198.6 pounds, two up from my low of 196, wearing a comfy size 14 pants and dress, and a 14/L top.
  • I can run up my stairs without a second thought.
  • I have one chin, and a definite neck. I had to buy new chains for most of my necklaces that were 2”-3” shorter.
  • I wear a size 36 J bra, which actually needs to be re-fitted soon
  • Ok, I’m still tired a lot, but a big part of that is my job. However, I can sleep now, and have energy more often than not.
  • I wear a Medium or Large men’s t-shirt
  • My walking shoes are a 9 regular, and my dressier shoes are a 9 1/2 regular. I lost weight in my feet.
  • Except for losing my gallbladder, I’ve only been sick a handful of times.
  • The only skin rash I’ve gotten is from a mean mosquito.
  • I can count on my fingers the number of bad pimples I’ve had.
  • I wear my fitbit band on the second to smallest notch.
  • I take much more pride in my appearance and am no longer “the smelly kid.”
  • I have to have my wedding ring set sized back down, and wear a size 6.5 ring.
  • I only get a stomachache on the rare occasion that I eat off-plan.
  • My joints don’t hurt like they used to. My knees hurt after a long walk (more than 5 miles). No more finger or toe pain, shoulders are good, neck is fine.
  • I can wear almost any pair of glasses I try on now, without the embarrassing side of face lines. I can wear contacts too, but I’m out at the moment!

I’ve lost and maintained an 86 pound loss, and I still have a bit to go. I’m in a plateau at the moment, and my doctor assures me it’s “normal” and he would be satisfied if I could just maintain here.

This is my new normal, minus the fancy hair and makeup!

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This was, by far, one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It’s up there with choosing to marry my husband and choosing to work where I work. I’ve never felt better!

Thank you to all of you, my friends, family, readers, and support system for being there every step of the way! I’ll continue to update here, as I learn more about losing, as my old weight watchers leader used to say, “the hard lard.”

One last progress photo, for fun… my school pictures from last year and this year!

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Traveling: Then & Now

I’ve been lucky enough to spend a good portion of my Summer break traveling which, after years of a weekend trip here or there, has been truly amazing.

Last summer, my sister and I went to Key West, Florida for a few days at the very end of the summer. I ended up getting strep on the trip, and apart from that, I was generally sick and tired all the time. We walked around in the heat, and I ended up being 2-3 strides behind my sister the whole time. She told me that she was so worried about me. This was my favorite photo from that trip:

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This year, I spent a week in and around Portland, Oregon with one of my closest college friends. I told her when I booked the trip that I wanted to do “all the outdoorsy stuff I physically couldn’t do last visit”. That last visit was two years ago. This was me and Ericka on that last visit:

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So, Ericka planned all sorts of fun things for when I was in Oregon. We hiked miles upon miles in beautiful places, but there were two moments where I just stopped and appreciated how far I’d come. We were on a trail at Silver Falls State Park and we just kept going and going, up and down hills, taking photo after photo of gorgeous waterfalls. At one point, we took a short little dirt trail to a rather hidden waterfall, and I took off my shoes, waded in the water, and climbed up onto a rock to take a little breather. Considering I was breathless in that photo above after walking up a short flight of stairs, this was quite an accomplishment. We ended up hiking almost 9 miles that day!

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A couple days later, we took a short road trip up to Crater Lake, quite possibly one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever been. We hiked about 3 miles that day, and there was only one point where it was just “too much”. I mean, really, a 45 degree angle for miles at a time is hard for everyone!

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Just this past week, my mom, her best friend, my sister, and I all went to Barcelona, Spain and the Mediterranean coast. We’d spent months planning, and surprised my mom with the trip for her birthday back in May, and it was every bit as amazing as I’d imagined it would be. We walked a minimum of 12,000 steps each day (thank you FitBit!) and I was able to keep up with my sister this time! We even talked about how I wasn’t “scurrying behind her” on this year’s vacation. These are a few favorites from this year’s trip:

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And just so you don’t have to scroll up to see, here’s a comparison of last year to this year:

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Now, let’s talk food a minute. I’m a huge fan of food, obviously. On both my trips, I generally ate what I wanted, but the quantities were significantly different than in the past. In Oregon, keeping low-carb was really easy, as Ericka is gluten-free. We enjoyed amazing meals, I think I may have overeaten once, and I rediscovered my love for peanut butter.

In Spain, I was bound and determined to eat as much authentic food as I could, and yes, this included carbs. I had fruits, bread, desserts, wine at lunch and dinner, and enjoyed thoroughly every last bite. I ate a ton of seafood, sucked the stuff out of shrimp heads, drank Fanta Limón, and don’t regret a thing. The minute I touched down on US soil, it was back to plan: a salad at the airport during our layover, followed by a lettuce wrap for dinner before I went to bed at 8:45 p.m. I can say today that I’m proud of myself for indulging the way I wanted to without overdoing it, and I have no regrets about what I didn’t indulge in.

I do, however, regret that I didn’t bring back any jamón iberico… sigh…

Onederland!

After last week’s gain, I was not optimistic about this week’s weigh in. I figured I’d get on the scale and have lost what I’d gained last week.

Have you figured out that when I start out a post with an expectation, it’s usually because the opposite happened?

I got on the scale after shedding my maxi skirt and extra tank top as I have for the last few weeks. I stepped on the scale, and I saw something I haven’t seen since 2007.

There was a ONE at the beginning of my weight number. A FREAKING ONE!!!

I saw 199.6!!!

That puts my total weight loss at 85.5 pounds so far, which according to ILostWhat.com  is the same as 4 lemurs.

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It has been a red-letter week over here, with my “New You” contest win, a 5.8 pound loss, and hitting Onederland (get it? Because my weight starts with a 1?)

There’s three days left of the school year, and I have a lot of packing to do… but at least I know that moving my stuff OUT will be easier than moving my stuff IN. There’s 85 pounds less of me, and I’m tons stronger…in more ways than one!

My First Gain

36 weeks in and I just now had my first gain.

After this past week, I was up 3.2 pounds and it really hit me hard. I’m trying to not let it get to me.

I checked my food logs and saw that I was over on sodium for the three days before weigh in, and under on my water intake. That would do it, for sure, but it’s still hard to see that number on the scale go up.

When I got home, Adam looked at me and said “Remember, don’t let a box of springs make you forget all the work you’ve done.” It’s what our old Weight Watchers leader used to say, and I needed the reminder. I’ve still lost 79.7 pounds, which is nothing to sneeze at!

And, I’d still rather look like this:

Favorite outfit as of late

Favorite outfit as of late

Than this:

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And be healthier to boot, any day!

Keep on keepin’ on…

Brain Progress

So, remember back when I first started losing weight and every single day was an adventure?

Now? Not so much. I pretty much wake up, do my thing, and go to bed.

The thing that’s different though, is what “doing my thing” entails. Most days, back in the What’s for Dinner? blog hey day, my day was very very different than now. Usually, every day (or almost every day) after school involved a trip to the grocery store for dozens of ingredients for some “fabulous” dinner and sometimes baked goods. Hours would be spent in the evenings prepping, cooking, plating, photographing, and finally eating said meal, and then editing the photos and blogging. Not to mention my afternoons were mostly spent completely and totally exhausted, struggling to stay awake past 7:30 p.m. but forcing myself to stay up until 9. But darn it, the blog looked awesome.

Nowadays, I’ve embraced the “plan ahead” method when it comes to food. Early in the week, I purchase enough food for breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, and spend a bit of time on Sunday (or Monday if I’m feeling slackish) prepping what I need to. Eggs are hard-boiled. Veggies are chopped. One large amount of protein is cooked. The crock pot, even in this nicer weather, has been a really great friend. One pot of chili or pot roast is enough to last the week since someone I live with doesn’t eat leftovers. These basic proteins are great on salads, in low-carb wraps, or even just on their own with my veggie of choice. I cycle through vegetables too…

I did nothing but eat brussels sprouts for the first few weeks I ate real food, with the occasional cauliflower thrown in. Now, I’m very deeply into grilled asparagus and red peppers. I’m sure that’ll pass in favor of tomatoes soon, but I’m really just excited for Summer produce.

Snacks are simple: Quest bars are my new favorite things. They’re delicious, have LOADS of fiber, only a few accessible carbs, and did I mention DELICIOUS?! I’m talking cookies and cream and cookie dough and strawberry cheesecake, and I really look forward to eating one a day. (Quest hasn’t paid me or anything for this mention, I just really really like them!!) I’m also eating raw almonds (26, no more, no less), string cheese, and 2% cottage cheese. Sometimes these are “meals” and sometimes they’re “snacks”, it all just depends on what time I eat.

Weight loss progress has slowed down a bit, though it’s still headed in the right direction. I’m officially down 82.9 pounds, and am inching my way closer to “Onederland”…that mythical spot where my weight number will start with at “1” instead of a “2”. I honestly cannot believe I’ve come this far. I’m not just talking about the scale, but honestly, the “brain progress” is bigger to me than the weight loss. I’m completely satisfied with a simple meal and good company, and know that eating what I used to consider “normal” will make me feel like utter crap.

Some progress photos:

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With my sister-in-law, Rivian, at her baby shower I threw

Progress

Progress

I treated myself to some new (and probably too expensive) hair color.

I treated myself to some new (and probably too expensive) hair color.

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Crazy difference, huh?

Learning to curl the hairs

Learning to curl the hairs

Now, I have a serious question to ask you: I know many of you are still on the OptiFast full-fast. I was thinking about starting to post some of the recipes I’ve been cooking, but I don’t want to upset anyone. What would you all think about that? Should I just start a new page with recipes or would you like to see them here?

For those of you eating low-carb…what are your favorite foods?

Transition to Food

Oh hey… guess I kind of forgot to update here, huh?

Living not blogging is far more fun 🙂

How about an update then?

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I’m officially down 77.9 pounds which is more than my adorable golden retriever weighs!

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More importantly, I received my bloodwork numbers back from my work health screening. A work health screening was what got me started on this whole thing to begin with, so I was very interested to see what the new numbers would be.

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I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped and I let out a little cheer when I read those results!! I had a few other numbers that were higher (LDL) and some that were a little “off” thanks to my recent surgery. Otherwise though, EVERYTHING was in the “healthy” range for the first time since middle school!

Food-wise, I’ve entered the phase of things that I’ve been scared of since the beginning: all REAL FOOD, all the time. A meeting with the dietitian and a food-centered class and I felt confident enough to start with all food all day. Something my dietitian said really stuck with me: “make your choices as mindless as your Optifast choices were.” So I took a trip to the grocery store.

Breakfast: protein shake made with almond milk, coffee, and whey protein

Snack: two light string cheeses

Lunch: greek light yogurt and 1 serving of raw almonds (25 of them)

Snack: either cottage cheese with sugar-free jam OR a bar OR hummus and peppers (it depends on my schedule)

Dinner: This week, crock-pot chicken barbacoa on a giant salad with cucumber, avocado, tomato, cheese, and light sour cream

Snack: sugar-free fat-free pudding made with 1% milk

Next week will likely be the same or similar. So far, it’s gone well! I am noticing that I’m a bit hungrier, so I may need to make my lunch or snack a little bigger. It’s all a learning process!

As usual, I put together a few progress pictures to keep myself motivated:

Two visits to the Botanic Gardens, a few months and 70 pounds lighter!

Two visits to the Botanic Gardens, a few months and 70 pounds lighter!

At the Botanic Gardens

At the Botanic Gardens

Progress: -77 pounds

Progress: -77 pounds

Progress: -73 pounds

Progress: -73 pounds

OH! And I entered the official Optifast “New You” contest too! Maybe I’ll post my whole essay one day… but here’s my official before and after pictures that I submitted:

Before - Summer 2013, 285 pounds

Before – Summer 2013, 285 pounds

Now - April 2014 - 207 pounds

Now – April 2014 – 207 pounds

And with that, I’m signing off! I’ll check in again soon!